Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new term could open old wounds by rewriting country's post-war remorse

 

Tokyo

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has returned to work this week after romping home to victory in the general election, promising to fix the nation’s huge economy.

Mr Abe has so far said less about his political obsession: whitewashing the past. For evidence, take the 19 members of his cabinet: 14 belong to a parliamentary league that supports worshipping at Yasukuni, the controversial Tokyo war memorial that enshrines Japan’s Second World War leaders.

Questioned this week about whether he intends to visit Yasukuni on 15 August, the day Japan surrendered in the Second World War, the Prime Minister said: “It’s natural to pray and show respect for those who died fighting for the nation.”

However, a pilgrimage to Yasukuni also implies endorsement of the leaders and their war aims, which is why China and South Korea – both victims of Japan’s wartime aggression – demand the Prime Minister doesn’t go. 

Mr Abe’s Cabinet is striking in its obsession with the past. Thirteen lawmakers support Nihon Kaigi, a nationalist think-tank that rejects Japan’s “apology diplomacy” for its wartime misdeeds. Nine belong to a parliamentary association for “reflecting” on history education, or revisionists who deny most of Japan’s war crimes. 

The Cabinet line-up includes Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, who wants to consign to history’s dustbin not just the landmark 1995 Murayama Statement, expressing “remorse” to Asia for Japan’s wartime atrocities, but even the verdicts of the 1946-48 Tokyo war crimes trials. 

Mr Abe himself wants to revise three of the country’s basic modern charters: the 1946 Constitution, the Education law, which he thinks undervalues patriotism, and the nation’s security treaty with the US, which constrains Japan to a junior role. 

If Mr Abe’s brief taste of power in 2006-07 taught him anything, however, it is that few ordinary Japanese share his appetite for root-and-branch makeover of the nation’s postwar architecture. So he has trodden very carefully since retaking power last December, carefully avoiding what he calls diplomatic “misunderstandings”.

In late April, Mr Abe queried the definition of “aggression” in relation to Japan’s colonial wars in Asia, undermining the basis of Tokyo’s relations with its former victims. During election campaigning, he said such judgments were “best left to historians”, again declining to use the word “aggression”.

The key question following Mr Abe’s victory then is: will his political obsessions override his economic judgment? The answer could have profound consequences for the world: Japan is locked in a bitter territorial dispute with China, its biggest trading partner. Political misjudgment could worsen already badly corroded ties between the planet’s second and third largest economies. 

The Prime Minister’s political resurrection has been built on his economic policies, dubbed Abenomics. But as political scientist Koichi Nakano says: “This is really not the reason why he’s in politics in the first place. He’s a hardcore nationalist with a very jarring revisionist view of history.”

But Mr Abe will struggle to get what he wants. His government’s coalition partner, New Komeito, is a Buddhist-backed party that supports the pacifist constitution. Then there is the likely reaction from China and South Korea, and from Japan’s key ally, Washington, which does not want to be dragged into conflict in Asia. And Japan’s voters have elected him to focus on the economy, not the past.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive - West London - £35,000

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A luxury fashion retailer based in W...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Engineer - East Riding of Yorkshire

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Systems Engineer - East Riding of...

Recruitment Genius: IT Technician / Epos Engineer - Crayford

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This retail and hospitality til...

Recruitment Genius: HP Technical Support Analyst

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding IT Manag...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable